Thursday, September 03, 2009

On Central Asian emigration

Yesterday at my blog, I posted a link to an article describing the sad and terribly impoverished lives of the people of Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan region in the east of Tajikistan. The people living in the poorest region of one of the world's poorest countries describe their lot as misery, lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union that provided the subsidies and income transfers that supported everything from dams to schools.

How do people in Tajikistan respond? Increasingly, they emigrate. Mass emigration began with the departure of ethnic and religious minorities in the late 1980s and early 1990s followed by wholesale emigration of the general population following the catastrophic post-Soviet economic collapse and a bloody civil war that managed to be at once terribly bloody and apparently meaningless. Hundreds of thousands of Tajiks have gone to Russia on a seasonal or a permanent basis, working in construction jobs, as street merchants, and the like.

Tajikistan is only the most extreme example of a phenomenon common in all Central Asia save the developed Kazakhstan of migration northwards, to Russia as well as to Kazakhstan. The migration of members of non-titular nationalities north has mostly passed, and the current trend is for workers in the poorest post-Soviet societies to go north, with Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz apparently being more likely to leave. This also seems to work on a regional basis, with migrants in Kyrgyzstan being more likely to come from the poorer south that from the north. Once in their destinations, these migrants work and try to send enough of their earnings home to help support their families in the time-honoured tradition.

This migration is going to continue, on account of the historical and cultural proximity of Russia and Central Asia, Russian policy imperatives, and the sustained lack of jobs in sending regions. In theory, a positive symbiosis could be achieved, but this might be problematic in real life.
Seongjin Kim wrote in a recent study that large-scale migration could trigger nationalist crises as well as brain drain in the sending countries, while in her magisterial survey Saltanat Sulaimanova warns that human trafficking of people of all ages and genders could easily be a consequence of ill-managed migration. And in the meantime, the global economic crisis is likely to diminish the vital flow of remittances to the migrants' home countries.


Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but except for some high fertility states like Afghanistan and Pakistan (and even their fertilities may be dropping) few of those central Asian states have a fertility rate above replacement level and have already seen many of their younger people leave. And these are not massively populated states to begin with. And Russia's economy is in pretty rough shape right now and looks to get worse as bad debt comes due and a resourse based economy witnesses chronically low prices and years/decades of shirking on preventative maintenance diminish output capacity while corruption continues to spread. All this means that Russia is not going to be the drawing power it has been and there may not be the young emmigrants to draw from. Or am I missing something.

Justin said...

To be honest, is it right to support and subsidize the lives of people living where people shouldn't live? If nature creates an environment inhospitable for a species, the species migrates or they die out. Why should humans be any different?

Yes, I'm in a very unsympathetic mood tonight.

Tamara said...

The specific Gorno-Badakshan region might be extremely inhospitable (and indeed only has a population of about 200k in an area almost the size of Ireland.) but central asia as a whole has historically been quite prosperous. This is economics, not nature.

Anonymous said...

Snakeoilbaron i think you are wrong on two points: The Stans still have a TFR above replacement.
Russia is still much richer than the Stans and most people in the Stans speak Russian which makes immigration to Russia much easier and more likely to find a "good" job.

Anonymous said...

Russia may be wealthier than the stans for now but eastern Europe and Turkey, and the E.U. are far richer even in recession and treat immigrants a whole lot better.

Kyrgyztan TFR = 2.65 and average age is about 24 (the older people get the less likely they are to emmigrate). Replacement fertility is only 2.1 or so when there is a low death and infant mortality rate - it can be closer to three when conditions are poor. And fertility rates are falling in most places, even in the presence of poverty.

Kazakhstan: TFR = 1.8 and average age of almost 30. It will likely be competing with Russia for labor.

Uzbekistan: TFR = 1.95 and average age about 25.

Turkmenistan: TFR = 2.22 and average age about 24.5.

I would suspect that many of the Russian speakers in these areas are minority ethnic Russians and since the end of the USSR they have been emmigrating to Russia - there is not an endless supply of them.

I find it hard to see Central Asia solving Russia's demographic/labor problems when the few states with rapidly growing populations are furthest away (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and are not providing the level of skill that Russia will despirately need to maintain and rebuild its infrastructure and supply its industries. And even if the region could meet that need and the economy of Russia could compete with other centers of migration gravity, the high level of zenophobia and hostility would need to be dealt with instead of incouraged by the government which uses it to deflect blame for corruption and mismanagement.

At least, that's how things look to me at the moment.

Anonymous said...

The Stans where part of the USSR so everybody who went to more than elementary and is above 40 speaks Russian. My guess is that Russian is still the foreign language they teach in highschool and it is still the language between the etnic groups. It is also an official language in Kyrgyzstan. In short: People from the Stans speak Russian.

If you are proficient in a language than is opens a lot of jobs which are simply closed for non speakers. Which means that working in Russia probably pays better than working in Europe even though Russia is poorer than Europe. There is also the network effect which again makes Russia a more likely target

ps. Kazakhstan is often not included in the Stans and the TFR numbers i see are totally different on wikipedia are totally different from your numbers. This should teach me not to use wikipedia.

Cicerone said...

I looked Kazakh TFR-Numbers on their official page, and it looks like that Kazakh' fertility is improving. The official figure for 2007 is 2.47. The northern parts, where Russian population is very big, are below 2.1. The southern parts, which are ethnic Kazakh, are all above 2.1, the deep southern parts even 3 - 3.6. The biggest city Almaty has a TFR of 2.29, the capital Astana 2.06.
So in fact, even in the cities, the TFR of the Kazakhs is healthy, the TFR of Russians in Kazakhstan is not.

The Fall of the House of Usher said...

Perhaps Kazakhstan's total fertility rate is not dropping because the Russian and Ukrainian population has become a smaller portion of the population since the 1990s (from the emigration and the lower birth rates). Also, Russian and Ukrainian TFRs in Kazakhstan might have increased somewhat.

It does not seem like the ethnic Kazakh fertility would be rising much over sustained periods of time even if the economy is better now than in the 1990s.

I think that the CIA factbook TFR statistics are often inaccurate. The TFRs they list for the UK, for example, differ substantially from the numbers available from the official statistics website. They appear to have accurate data on the United States though.

The Fall of the House of Usher said...

The births per 1,000 does show a substantial rise in all the regions from 2003-2007 so it is possible that the ethnic Kazakh fertility (probably the Russian too) increased recently although I do not see any TFR charts from the time period.

Cicerone said...

There's only data for 2007:

Anonymous said...

The CIA stats may not be perfect but none are. The fact that they don't take official government stats for granted is a plus as far as I'm concerned. Methodologies might differ between states so for comparison it is nice to have a single source using one methodology. The other main source for such population data is the U.N. which consistantly over estimates rates and forecasts then revises downward later - especially regarding developing nations. Being a bit off for TFR doesn't make the data unusable for general predictions, especially when other factors like average age are involved.

The Russia language is more widespread in the region than I had appreciated but it is also a controversial issue, with some states taking action to reduce education in the Russian language. A Radio Free Europe article from before the Georgian war and economic collapse detail the change. One of the points made are that the Russian language is indeed understood more by the older generation raised under Soviet rule (less likely to emmigrate). The Russian language function as an "entrance ticket" to the Russian economy but it doesn't asure success as the vast number of unemployed native Russians can atest to.

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